Gjetost is a Scandinavian cheese many compare to fudge.
It’s as creamy as brie but with a distinctive goat-cheese tang and a finish like a robust caramel.
Erin McGinnis, executive chef of hospitality services and campus restaurants at Pacific Lutheran University, has the best description I’ve heard.
“It’s where the funk of goat cheese meets the sweetness of caramel,” she explained.
She’s offering gjetost right now at 208 Garfield, a casual cafe operated by PLU that’s popular with locals well beyond college diners. It’s known for sophisticated small plates, panini sandwiches and an extensive list of local beer, wine and coffee.
This time of year, 208 Garfield also is known for its Scandinavian holiday menu, offered through mid-January.
The gjetost — pronounced yay-toast — is one of three cheese selections on that menu alongside Scandi favorites of meatballs, lefse, pickled herring and pea soup.
McGinnis likes gjetost because it’s a flexible cheese that adds ballast to gravies and can enliven everything from potatoes to mac and cheese. It’s also a great eating cheese, which is why she added it to the cafe’s Scandi cheese plate.
Because gjetost is such a rich cheese, she prefers serving it in thinly shaved curls.
“You really need to shave it as thin as possible while letting it hold together. Because it’s so soft, you can just scrape across to get the curls,” she said.
There are a few different versions of the cheese on the market. At 208 Garfield, she serves the more distinctive goat-cheese version (Tine Ekte) in lieu of a hybrid gjetost made with goat and cow milk (Ski Queen), which is more mild.
The sweetness comes from the cooking process. The whey is heated until the sugars in the milk caramelize. The result is that nutty sweetness similar to caramel.
The 208 Scandinavian cheese plate pairs the gjetost with snofrisk, a tangy and more traditional tasting creamy white goat cheese, and an aged havarti ($13). The plate was a two-part extravaganza with a second plate holding grilled bread, salted, hot marcona almonds, thinly sliced apple and a sweet-and-sour beet chutney. It’s the most interesting cheese plate I’ve had all year.
Here’s a look at the rest of the Scandinavian menu at 208 Garfield.
Meatballs: It seems like it’s Scandi law that all Scandinavian-themed menus must offer Swedish meatballs, and 208 Garfield was in compliance with a rich-and-tasty version. The combination beef-and-pork meatballs carried a light fragrance of nutmeg and were suspended with steamed Yukon gold potatoes in a rich brown gravy softened by a swirl of creme fraiche and tart lingonberry preserves ($8).
Lefse: It’s served as a small or large plate with the usual accompaniments of real butter, cinnamon sugar and lingonberry preserves. Details are tended at this restaurant. The butter was molded into pretty orbs and cinnamon sugar arrived in an all-you-can-shake container ($3 small/$5 large). Lefse also available for taking home by the pound ($8).
Pea soup: Hearty, thick and with a light, bouncy texture from a partial puree. The soup came dressed the way all good soups do, with chopped bacon on top. Rye crackers and mustard on the side turned this into a meal. ($3.50/$5).
Also available: A panini sandwich with tangy snofrisk goat cheese, beet chutney and arugula ($5.50). Pickled herring in sour cream with rye toast ($3).
Where: 208 Garfield St. S, Tacoma; 253-538-5990; 208garfield.com.
Hours: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays-Fridays; 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays.
Offering: Scandinavian menu through mid-January.